Defining Type Coins & Coin Series
Before jumping into what is a type set it is important to first understand the definition of a type coin. You will probably come across various definitions but they are all the same with only vocabulary differences. I happen to use the definition provided by “us-coin-values-advisor.com” which provides the following:
A type coin is a representative coin from a given series. Type coins are collected based on the series they exemplify instead of its date and mintmark.
Nice definition but what is a coin series? I’ve seen various statements or opinions on this so I stayed with a simple approach by asking what defines a coin in order to establish a coin series. What surfaced were the following 6 elements:
- Minting Source: Country, Territory, Province, State, Business, etc…
- Denomination: cent, dime, etc…
- Obverse Design
- Reverse Design
- Size/Shape: large, small, 12-sided, square, etc…
- Composition/Weight: silver, copper/nickel, etc…
To better illustrate this lets compare the 6 elements of two Lincoln cents, one from 1930 and one from 1960:
|1930 Cent||1960 Cent|
|Minting Source: United States||match||Minting Source: United States|
|Denomination: cent||match||Denomination: cent|
|Obverse Design: Lincoln bust||match||Obverse Design: Lincoln bust|
|Reverse Design: wheat ears||different||Reverse Design: Lincoln Memorial|
|Size/Shape: 19mm dia||match||Size/Shape: 19mm dia|
|Composition: copper/zinc||match||Composition: copper/zinc|
In this example, everything matches except for the reverse design so that is our defining point for a new coin type or series. The two type coins can now be called Lincoln Cent type 1 (wheat) and Lincoln Cent type 2 (memorial).
A type set is a collection of single type coins bounded by some theme or time period.
U.S. type coins of the 20th Century (time)
World silver dollars with ship designs (theme).
Because type sets focus on a single specimen from a coin series, specific dated or mint marked coins are often not a priority, but this may change based on your collecting strategy (more on strategy later).
Some, if not most, type sets include some variety coins in addition to types. Varieties are intentional or deliberate modifications to the design, composition, or mintage source of a coin series after it has been issued for circulation. Listed below are examples of varieties:
- Minting Source Varieties – Addition of mint branches such as Denver
- Obverse Design – Addition or removal of stars, drapes, arrows, etc…
- Reverse Design – Addition or removal rays, motto's, initials, etc…
- Composition/Weight – Changes in percentage allocation of composition, 90% silver versus 40% silver
Sometimes variety changes overlap. For example, in the seated liberty quarter series the composition weight was modified in 1853 from its original weight of 103.1 grains to 96 grains and to recognize the difference in coins they added arrows around the date of the obverse design.
Major and Minor Varieties
Typically, varieties are classified as major or minor, but, I have yet to find a good definition as to what constitutes major or minor. Definition of major and minor is subjective and left to the individual collector's preference. Listed below are the rules of thumb I use for determining major or minor classifications:
- Minting source varieties – the addition of new minting sources is minor.
- Obverse and reverse designs – if I can see the difference without the assistance of magnification then it is a major change (this includes the relocation of mintmarks or designer initials).
- Composition/Weight – Weight changes are minor, while % changes in regards to composition are major for example a composition change from 90% silver & 10% copper to 40% silver & 60%copper. In the example the composition is the same (silver/copper) but the % allocations changed.
Other Considerations for Type Sets
The following items may or may not be part of your type set(s) and depends entirely on your preference:
- Circulating versus non-circulating – I personally prefer circulating coinage or in other words it has to be a coin that was intended to end up in someone’s pocket change.
- Bullion - Though bullion coins are legal tender, they are only in the possession of collectors, investors, and dealers. Additionally, bullion coins are more related to the precious metals market than the numismatic markets as they were issued as investments for individuals wishing to invest in the precious metals market. I don’t include them based on my circulating versus non-circulating view but I see nothing wrong if a collector wants to include bullion coins
- Use of reproductions – It is highly probable that you cannot afford every type coin your heart desires so low cost reproductions may fit the bill. Personally I enjoy looking at coin designs and plan on purchasing reproduction 18th century coins for my type set.
- Proof Coins - Though not true circulating coins they do maintain the same design, size, and composition as regular circulating coinage except their finish is different. Personally I like all coins in a set to have a similar look so I don't mix proof and circulating because of the contrasts in finish. Its either one or the other. I once saw a complete 20th century type set with just proofs, I have to admit it was one of the best looking sets I've ever seen.
- Error Varieties - Accidental modifications due to, die errors, planchet laminating, or manufacturing.
Strategies/Approaches to Type Set Collecting
Before running straight into a coin shop and buying every and any coin you see you need to first develop a strategy.
- Why - Ask yourself why are you collecting? Perhaps its a fascination with history or art. To put on display for conversation with friends and family. Maybe its an investment.
- Define your Set - Define what type or theme set you want to assemble and create a want list to keep you focused. (Note: you can download some checklists from this site to get you started)
- Budget - Once you understand why & what you are collecting then establish a budget. $500 a year, $3,000 a year, or whatever you establish. It's easy to get carried away with purchasing coins and spending more money than you have.
- Grades or Finish - Determine what grade or finish you would like the coins to be. Try not to jump all over the grading scale as the contrast of each coin takes away from the beauty of the set. For example, how would a set look with a mix of BU, XF, and Good coins? I recommend the following grade combinations for sets that allow for a uniform look; AU/BU, XF/VF, or VF/F. Personally, I try to not go below VF as this condition shows the most detail of a coin design at the lowest cost. Another approach may be a high end slabbed (third party graded coins from PCGS or NGC) set where all coins must grade a minimum mint state grade like MS64 or 65. The downside to this approach is that storage becomes somewhat difficult as the slabbed coins are bulky.
- No Concessions - Don't make concessions to fit your budget, if your type set has primarily AU/BU coins but you are left with $10 which can buy you a VG coin to a fill hole then do not do it! Spend that last $10 on a coin book, supplies or carry it over to the next year. Nothing is worse when you have to continuously look at a coin and it sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other coins.
- Special Dates - You may want to plan out certain dates that hold personal or intimate value to you. Another approach is to collect the first or last year issue of a type coin.
- Investment - If you are assembling a set as a pure investment then any date or mint mark coin will not do. Attempt to purchase key or semi-key coins. History has shown that key & semi-key coins have the best growth rates. The only downside to this is the costliness for assembling such a specific set.